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In 2009, Ethan Brown quit his job as a clean energy executive to launch his new venture – a next-gen plant-based meat company called Beyond Meat. Back then, most people thought his idea wouldn’t make it. But it did, big time. Today, Beyond Meat is one of the most widely recognised plant-based meat labels in the world, sold across thousands of restaurants and supermarket chains, including giants such as Walmart, Kroger and Target. It became the first vegan company to go public and soared 163% to become the biggest-popping IPO since the dot-com bubble days in 2000.
In a recent interview, Brown talked to CNBC Make It about his early days running Beyond Meat, his journey proving the early naysayers wrong, and what he wants to tell critics now as the plant-based trend positions itself fully into the mainstream. Here’s four things the Beyond Meat CEO and founder revealed.
1. He always believed that Beyond Meat would become successful
In the first few years of launching his plant-based meat brand, most people were skeptical. He recalls bringing a few of his products to his childrens’ baseball and softball games, and most of the other parents were “kind of like ‘nah’”. But it never changed his belief that plant-based meat would take off. “I didn’t know the scale of the success, but I knew that this was something that the world needed,” he told CNBC.
2. All innovations are considered “crazy until it’s not”
According to Brown, Beyond Meat – now not at all considered a niche product to have in your kitchen or a dish to order at a restaurant – is living proof that with every single novel product or innovation, “it’s crazy until it’s not”. And it’s truly not “crazy” anymore, with the likes of Oscar-winning Octavia Spencer featuring in the startup’s very first TV commercial, which even saw a cameo from NFL player Todd Gurley.
3. His motivation came from working on a bigger cause
“It’s really important to tether yourself to something that is bigger than who you are…[because] when you have unwavering conviction about something, you are willing to be marginalised for awhile,” explained Brown. Despite all the negative comments that people might have had about Beyond Meat, the company’s solution was one that could help disrupt the unsustainable food system, reduce carbon emissions, eliminate animal cruelty and improve people’s health.
4. Prove critics wrong with scientific evidence
Many have suggested that plant-based meats, being highly processed products, are unhealthy and could even be less healthful or nutritionally dense than conventional animal meat. Brown disagreed, but knew that it needed to be backed up by science. “My kids eat so much of this product and I eat so much of it…So it’s really important to me that we’re not running an experiment on our families or on our children,” the Beyond Meat CEO said. To that end, the plant-based giant recently funded a “swap meat” study conducted by Harvard Medicine, which found that when participants were on the plant-based meat diet, they had lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and TMAO, both risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
Lead image courtesy of Michael Nagle / Bloomberg via Getty Images.